Companies are ‘stars’ for the environment

Posted on December 3rd, 2010

Sandra Hosking / Down to Earth NW Correspondent –

AutoCraft, located in the Spokane Valley, is one of several Spokane area businesses that have earned the EnviroStar certification for their efforts to improve how they handle hazardous waste.

Ten Spokane-area businesses have become environmental “stars” by earning certification from EnviroStars, a free and voluntary program that evaluates the way companies handle their hazardous waste.

Carl Rantzow, owner of Spokane’s Selkirk Landscape Services, says he saw participating in the program as a way to improve how his business cleaned up its waste. “I’m always concerned about the aquifer and the environment, and I just felt that it was a good way to create a checklist and have someone come through and inspect the site and give recommendations on how we can do better,” he says.

Other certified businesses include Ed’s Premier Auto Body, Flash’s Auto Body & Paint, J.J.’s Auto Collision, Martin Motors Complete Auto Repair and Preedy’s Tire & Automotive, all of Spokane. Spokane Valley EnviroStars include AutoCraft, K&M Unibody Works, Maaco Spokane Valley and Washington Auto Collision.

“Consumers want the choice of shopping at businesses that help keep our community clean,” says Tonilee Hanson, EnviroStar’s Spokane-based coordinator. “When you see the EnviroStars logo, you know that the business has been certified for doing its part to keep the river, aquifer, air and land clean.”

Benefits to a certified business might include attracting customers through use of green and sustainable practices, a safer and healthier work environment, increased efficiency leading to decreased costs, a strengthening of supplier and agency relationships and listings in EnviroStars advertising and promotional materials.

King County launched the EnviroStars program in 1995, which has grown to include more than700 businesses on the west side of the state. That program is administered by the government and funded through “tipping fees,” but Spokane’s program is operated by a group of government agencies and a nonprofit organization. “We’re the only county that has this elaborate partnership of agencies and a nonprofit,” Hanson says. “The agencies banded together at no cost to the businesses.”

The Spokane River Forum, the nonprofit, administers the program, while the Spokane Regional Health District provides the consultants who evaluate the businesses. Other organizations and agencies who helped fund and provide assistance include the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Spokane Aquifer Joint Board, Spokane Clean Air, Spokane Regional Solid Waste and the city of Spokane’s solid waste department.

The Spokane affiliate is considered a pilot program and currently only offers two-star level certification. It endorsed its first business here last May and hopes to have 50 businesses in the program by next June, Hanson says.

Eligible businesses must generate only small quantities of hazardous waste. Because the Department of Ecology regulates businesses who generate a large amount of waste, certifying such small waste generators is a “missing link,” Hanson says. Typical businesses include auto body and repair shops, dentists, dry cleaners, print services and small manufacturers.

Participating businesses agree to allow a “local source control” site visit by a Spokane Regional Health District representative to verify that it meets qualification standards. They also will set a goal to improve practices and reduce hazardous materials and waste. In addition, businesses must renew EnviroStars certification annually.

To receive the two-star designation, a business must have secondary containment for its waste, label containers that hold toxic waste, have a third party evaluate how the waste is being handled and intend to implement environmentally responsible procedures in the future.

“These people have been so great,” Hanson says. “They care about their community.”

Some certified businesses already were handling their waste properly, and adding the EnviroStar stamp of approval was icing on the cake. “If they are in an industry that typically generates small quantities of hazardous waste or toxic waste and they’ve already eliminated it, they deserve the credit,” Hanson says.

Rick Martin, owner of Martin Motors, had heard of the EnviroStars program and its success on the west side of the state, and he had been waiting for it to be offered here. “Customers want to know that we’re treating the environment well because we’re killing it in so many other ways,” he says.

When working on cars, Martin takes care to dispose of used oil and other fluids properly rather than pouring them down the drain. And if some lands on the floor, he doesn’t use chemicals to clean up the mess. He has a waste furnace in which he stores used oil that he burns in the winter to heat the shop.

“I think it will be valuable to have customers know that I’m somebody that cares about the environment,” he says of his EnviroStar certification.

The 21-year-old business is located at 3105 N. Nevada and employs one part-time person in addition to Martin.

The fledgling Spokane EnviroStars program wants to make the public more aware of the EnviroStar rating and its meaning, to give customers another reason to use certified businesses.

There is no cost to participating in the program; however, there may be a cost to adjusting the way a business handles its waste. Making those changes is voluntary.

For example, “Selkirk Landscape Service, had all their pesticides in a secondary containment room, separate with a door that locks. We just walked in that room and there was a floor drain that they never noticed,” Hanson says. “They sealed the drain, so the pesticides wouldn’t seep into ground if spilled. It really is about tehnical assistance.”

EnviroStars also provided the business with a spill-response kit.

“It was just some details that’re easy to overlook,” Rantzow says. “Even if you don’t overlook them, if you’ve got someone partnering with you, it gives you an excuse to do it.”

Selkirk primarily provides lawn and garden services, such as mowing, weed control, and tree pruning. The 25-year-old business is located at 1910 E. Riverside and employs 12 people.

Says Rantzow, “It’s always good to clean up your act if you can.”